As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’
When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?
Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
So what is the point of today’s gospel parable? We have a master who describes himself as a demanding person and the story makes him out to be a person of great ambition for power and prestige. We have servants who are entrusted with ten gold coins and instructed to engage in trade while the master is away lobbying for the kingship. The servants range from savvy investors who are greatly rewarded to one poor fellow who is afraid to invest because he might lose the gold coins. As a result he is castigated and all is taken from him. Finally, we have the people who do not want this master to become their king. The fate of these unfortunate dissenters is a cruel death before the new king. It does not sound like a very Christian set of circumstances!
In the first verse of this gospel we learn that Jesus tells this parable because he was near Jerusalem and the crowd following him thought the kingdom of God would appear there immediately. Maybe this is a cautionary tale to those who have high expectations of an earthly kingdom led by a strong king who will get rid of the Romans. Such a king might also have overly demanding expectations of his subjects, an unquenchable thirst for power and glory, and no patience or mercy for those who resist his authority. This reminds me of the old caveat, “Be careful what you wish for; it may come true.” Is Jesus tempering the crowd’s expectation of the kingdom for which they wish?
Alternatively, and in line with more traditional thought, this parable might offer a lesson about receiving the talents God gives each of us and using them well to build his Kingdom. Each of us is given unique talents and the Kingdom of God here and now will not become as full as it can without our using these talents to help the people in our lives see and experience God’s love. We simply give to others what God has so generously given to us first.
This reminds me of another saying, “the person we are upon waking in the morning is God’s gift to us; the person we are upon reclining at night is our gift to God.” So let us awake each morning with the intent of building the Kingdom, and recline each night giving thanks for being part of God’s ongoing creation of the world.
Maybe there is some truth in both reflections on this parable?
—David McNulty is the Provincial Assistant for Advancement, Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits
Lord, grant that I may see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly. Amen!
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